JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Dozens of Israeli Air Force reservists said on Sunday they would not attend a training day in protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, a shock to a country whose military is supposed to be a melting pot. apolitical.
As a strategic arm of Israel, the Air Force has traditionally relied on wartime reservists and requires demobilized crews to train regularly in order to maintain readiness.
But in a message circulated in local media, the 37 F-15 squadron pilots and navigators said they would skip the exercises scheduled for Wednesday and instead “devote our time to dialogue and reflection for democracy and national unity.”
The nationalist religious government is seeking changes that include restrictions on the Supreme Court, which it accuses of being excessively accessible. Critics worry that Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – wants too much power over the judiciary.
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Weekly, boisterous demonstrations swept the country, with some protest leaders – including former military chiefs – saying an undemocratic shift in government would justify mass insurrection within the ranks.
Thirty-seven Air Force reservists said they would suspend their one-day protest if asked to carry out actual operations.
A military spokesman declined to comment on their letter but said that Supreme Commander Lieutenant General Herzi Halevy “is aware of the public rhetoric and division, but will not allow any harm to the (IDF’s) ability to carry out its most important mission – to defend Israel’s security.”
The statement said the officers were instructed to speak with their subordinates about the issue, who also emphasized “the importance of preserving the IDF’s neutrality.”
Israel does not publish figures on military personnel, making it difficult to judge the impact of protesting Air Force reservists, or similar pledges by some reservists from other branches.
“This irresponsible Israeli media takes advantage of any reservist who makes some kind of statement,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Channel 12 TV.
“There are tens and hundreds of thousands of people who will continue to enlist in the army and serve in the reserves, and understand that we are brothers and bear responsibility for the great miracle, which is the Zionist project,” he added.
Netanyahu, a former officer in Israel’s most notorious commando unit, tweeted a picture of himself at draft age with the caption: “When called up for reserve duty, we always show up. We are one nation.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s N12 News reports that Israel Airlines is having trouble finding a crew to transport Netanyahu on a state visit to Italy this week, due to the pilots’ boycott of the judicial reform.
Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
El Al said it would not support a boycott “especially against the prime minister of Israel”, and that the plane was crewed and would depart as planned.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Christina Fincher and Alexander Smith
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